Friday Face/Off: Rom-Coms

Tash (hater of love and all associated with it)

There were several ways I could have started this argument. I could have opened with “Rom-coms, chuh, all that, like gender sterotyping, pah, like, deepening the grooves of gender cliches that have long since been proven to be redundant etc etc”. I could have gone on about how romantic comedies raise our collective expectations for relationships to insane, perilous heights, ensuring that our lives can only achieve vague disappointment, or, at the very best, luke-warm relief. But I won’t say any of that, because it’s deeply unnecessary. This is a genre that ensures Katherine Heigl’s continued existence as an “actor”. Shut them down, I say. For that alone, shut them the hell down.

Sarah (far too full of joy at the human race and its various endeavours)

Oh dear, one so young and yet so cynical. Just because you want to get an uzi and go gunning for such an easy target that doesn’t mean you have any idea about the real legendary rom-coms! I think 27 Dresses actually makes The Heigl look like a nice person and good actress on screen, and of course she is fulfilling a cliché, that’s why it is a cliché because it’s an eeny weeny bit true. But the really good rom-coms blow holes in the stereotypes, look at Harold & Maude or When Harry Met Sally, these films champion loving someone a little bit wrong, and at the same time they make you laugh. Don’t you want to BE HAPPY woman?!


You see, this is exactly the kind of horrible ideology that rom-coms continue to champion: love is only love if it goes a bit wrong, if its fraught with (hilarious) peril, if someone has to do a big run to the airport wearing some kind of symbolic token – it’s a recipe for emotional disaster. My beef is not with films about love, or indeed comedy based in romance, what I’m against is the endless ream of cookie-cutter, pink DVD box, “free yoghurt if you buy some shampoo with it” horror that oozes from every weeping opening in Hollywood’s sores. There are some wonderful films that deal with love in an entertaining and genuinely interesting way: Before Sunrise, True Romance, As Good As It Gets, Amelie, but they are not ONLY concerned with the flat journey taken by so very many big-budget star fests these days (*ahem He’s Just Not That Into You, Made Of Honor, Valentine’s Day, Leap Year, even (500) Days Of Summer*).


How can you say that Valentine’s Day wasn’t the most amazing movie made of all time? Surely with every Hollywood star worth their salt clawing the eyes out of the competition to bag some classic lines in that wonderful ensemble production, such as “Love is the only shocking act left on the planet” and “My closest relationship is with my Blackberry, Thank God it vibrates!” illustrate that it was the very pinnacle of romantic and funny film-making? Can’t you just feel Lawrence Olivier violently shaking in his casket, desperately trying to come back to life just so he can give Bradley Cooper a big ole gay pash? You can’t? Oh alright then, let’s get back to you dissing big studio productions like 500 days of Summer, what’s with that?! How very dare you diss this poignantly funny and original take on the romantic comedy, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt sees his love affair being ripped apart by the callous jaws of that stupidly-named bint Zooey Deschanel. It’s funny, and romantic and it doesn’t even really have a happy ending, but I still eat want to eat this stuff up!


I have no problems with films that talk about love, and OK, fine maybe I went a little too far with (500) Days of Summer. It is JGL, after all. But films that are actually good at dealing with love, loss and everything in between never seemed to be grouped into the dismissive category that is “the rom-com”. If a genre is so predictable that you can’t even be bothered to give it real, full words, then surely it’s time we did away with it? Studios know they can create films with unimaginative characters, boring plotlines, patronising comedy and saccharine messages because for some reason, we’ve accepted a genre that is essentially an apology. If you’re seeing “a rom-com”, you automatically assume it’s disposable cinema. We’re not angry when it turns out to be just that, because, after all it’s “just a rom-com”. I say NO! No excuses for lazy screen-writing, unoriginal technique and big-budget money spinners. Draping a knowing umbrella term over the whole foul lot of them doesn’t make it OK!


Although I agree on the disposable point, I very strongly disagree that the rom-com has become synonymous with lousy scriptwriting. Some of the best writing ever put on film has been in this genre, where else would you find Woody Allen comparing relationships to ‘dead sharks’ or Rob Reiner’s mum saying ‘I’ll have what she’s having’? Not in sodding Avatar I can tell you! Rom-coms are like all other film genres, but they get an unneccesary bad rap these days just because certain individuals are trying to single-handedly plunder the genre for financial gain (I am talking to you Hudson). I cannot stand a bad rom-com, and good ones are getting harder to find, but I still think this type of film has huge distance left to run. Directors and producers need to forget about making money and start coming up with fresh ideas, like in Easy A and Scott Pilgrim vs The World so that both men and the oestrogen-drenched hoards of female viewers can come running!


That’s the thing though, I hear “Easy A” and I don’t think ‘rom-com’, I think ‘comedy’. I think the problem lies in the terminology: a bad film is a bad film, and I think that bad rom-coms seem to get off easier because the term has somewhat come to be synonymous with lazily written, patronising chick-flicks, lowering expectations across the board. But, to be fair, no matter how I fight it, heart will always belong to Notting Hill.


Knew it.


By Natasha Hodgson and Sarah Louise Dean

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